Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay says Dustin Byfuglien will begin camp as defenseman

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buffywithchampbelt.jpgWe touched on the possibility of Dustin Byfuglien moving back to his “natural” defensive position earlier this summer when GM Rick Dudley expressed a preference to do so, but now it’s nearly confirmed as Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay expressed an interest to do the same. That means that Byfuglien, Dudley and Ramsay all would prefer for the burly multi-skilled player to move back to the blueline.

Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been all over this story.

Ramsay said Friday that Byfuglien will come to training camp as a defenseman.

“Dustin Byfuglien will have a chance to play defense,” Ramsay said. “I’ve been told he is a defenseman, he was a defenseman. That was his position and he likes it. He wants to be there. I will give him every opportunity to show us he can play defense. If he can do that, wonderful. That’s great. I look at our defense and I think it can be our strength, a strong point. If Buff can go in and be big and strong on defense, that would be awesome. If it doesn’t work, he’ll go up front. There is no reason we wouldn’t give him every good, solid chance to play the position and find out if he can. That would really solidify us on the back end.”

As a forward, Byfuglien scored 17 regular-season goals for Chicago last season. He scored 11 goals in 22 playoff games en route to the Stanley Cup. Byfuglien was traded to Atlanta in the off-season – one of four players from the championship team to join the Thrashers.

Such a move would seemingly set the top six defensemen of Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya, Brent Sopel and Byfuglien. That would mean players such as Boris Valabik, Freddy Meyer, Arturs Kulda, Jaime Sifers and Andrey Zubarev are in competition for another spot when training camp begins next week. Ramsay said he doesn’t intend to carry players on the roster that aren’t going to play on a regular basis.

It’s great that the Thrashers want to keep Byfuglien happy, but I think he might be more valuable to Atlanta as a forward. Just look at the offensive firepower the team already boasts in the defensive position: Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Ron Hainsey all can be useful on the powerplay. While I respect the fact that Byfuglien has a howitzer of a slap shot, I think he might be most useful in the Tomas Holmstrom role of making a goalie uncomfortable on the powerplay. It’s a tough job, but you know what’s a tougher job? Trying to move a 260 lbs. behemoth out of the crease.

The Thrashers are a vastly different team and while Byfuglien may never be a consistent impact player in the NHL, he’s part of a squad that will make things a lot more difficult for opponents. They might not win many more games – at least this season – but they’ll leave their rivals with more bruises. That must count for something, right?

PHT Morning Skate: Columnist argues McDavid’s already NHL’s most important player

Connor McDavid
AP Photo
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Although Connor McDavid‘s NHL career has only just gotten started, is he already the league’s most important player? (Sportsnet)

While we’re on the subject of McDavid, what should we expect from him for the remainder of his rookie campaign? (NHL Numbers)

Jack Jablonski was paralyzed on Dec. 30, 2011 at the age of 16 while playing high school hockey, but that hasn’t ended his pursuit of a career in hockey. He’s spent the last two years hosting a weekly hockey-talk radio program and has now joined the Los Angeles Kings as a communications intern. (Orange County Register)

Arizona State has earned its first NCAA victory. (Arizona Republic)

The 2015 Calder Cup champion Manchester Monarchs got their rings. (LA Kings Insider)

The Anaheim Ducks and the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave 13-year-old Kai Quinonez, who was diagnosed with aplastic anemia four years ago, a tremendous experience. (Orange County Register)

Canucks spoil Ducks’ home opener via shootout

Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks have already found a groove just three games into the regular season. The Anaheim Ducks are still looking for a way to get their offense going.

Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows scored in the shootout, and the Canucks spoiled Anaheim’s home opener with a 2-1 victory Monday night.

Miller made 28 saves and Adam Cracknell scored in regulation for Vancouver, which beat the Ducks for just the third time in their last 12 meetings.

Vancouver improved to 2-0 on the road in the young season, with Miller yielding just one goal in each game. That’s encouraging to the veteran, who played in only four games after Feb. 22 last season while dealing with a knee injury.

“I’m just trying to go out there and battle and compete,” said Miller, who stopped a third-period redirection by Carl Hagelin with his mask. “That was my mindset coming off an injury. That’s what it really comes down to, getting back the focus early on. I didn’t play hockey for a while. The technical stuff I worked on this summer and I pay attention to in practice.”

Even with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin combining for just one shot, the Canucks won the new season’s first meeting between the Pacific Division’s top two teams last year. Anaheim won its third straight division title, while Vancouver finished a surprising second before losing in the opening round of the playoffs.

Sami Vatanen scored and Frederik Andersen stopped 24 shots for the Ducks, who have scored just one goal while going winless in the first two games of a season that begins with Stanley Cup aspirations.

Anaheim was shut out in San Jose on Saturday in its opener before returning to Honda Center for its first real game on home ice since Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, when Chicago advanced to win the Stanley Cup.

Kevin Bieksa played nearly 24 1/2 minutes in his second game with the Ducks. Anaheim acquired the veteran defenseman from Vancouver last summer after he played 10 years with the Canucks, who drafted him in 2001. Bieksa was reunited with Ryan Kesler, the longtime Vancouver forward who moved to Anaheim before last season.

“We fought back a lot better than we did in San Jose,” Bieksa said. “So we need to keep building on this in the rest of this homestand here. If we do that, we’re going to be all right.”

After the Ducks failed to score on a power play during their first official taste of 3-on-3 overtime hockey, Vrbata and Burrows got stuttering, halting shots past Andersen, who stopped Burrows’ shot before watching it trickle under him.

“I’ve done that move a few times against a few goalies, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it against Freddie,” Burrows said. “So I tried it, and I’m lucky it went in tonight. It hit his stick and trickled in.”

Jakob Silfverberg scored in the shootout for the Ducks, who lost their home opener for just the second time in six seasons. Anaheim’s talented offensive players aren’t clicking so far, but nobody is panicking yet.

“I think we’re doing things the right way now,” Vatanen said. “We battled hard. We got some good chances. The season is long, so we’re going the right way.”

Both teams opened at a furious pace, with end-to-end chances throughout. After a scoreless first period, Vatanen got the Ducks’ first goal of the season when his long, low shot went through Mike Santorelli‘s screen.

Cracknell evened it later in the period with a sharp-angled shot that somehow deflected off Andersen’s shoulder or stick and landed behind the goalie. The journeyman got his first regular-season NHL goal since April 4, 2013, and just the seventh of his 85-game NHL career.

“Pretty fortunate goal on their part,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NOTES: A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Honda Center to call for the suspension of Ducks D Clayton Stoner, who faces charges in Canada related to a 2013 grizzly bear hunt. … Cracknell hadn’t scored a goal in his last 49 regular-season games, although he got a postseason goal in 2014 for St. Louis.